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ROME – On Thursday the Italian bishops released their first-ever report on national safeguarding efforts, revealing nearly 100 new and old cases documented in the past two years, but sharing few details about these incidents.
The report spanned just two years, from 2020-2021, and found that 89 complaints had been made against 68 alleged abusers, which many observers consider a significantly high number, given that these complaints were made through diocesan-run listening centers established in dioceses throughout Italy for the specific purpose of receiving abuse reports.
According to the report, a total of 89 complaints were made through diocesan representatives or listening centers, just over half of which involved recent or current abuse, and just under half involving past incidents.
These complaints, the bishops said, involved inappropriate behavior and language; inappropriate touching; sexual molestation or sexual relations; pornography; online grooming; and indecent exposure.
Of the 89 complaints, 12 involved children under the age of 10, and 61 came from children aged 10-18, whereas 16 of the alleged victims were over the age of 18, a group the church defined as “vulnerable individuals.”
Most of those accused of abuse were between the ages of 40-60 at the time of the alleged crime, and most of them were priests, followed by laity and members of religious orders. The laity involved, the report said, held positions such as religion teachers, sacristans, catechists, and leaders of associations.
The report also stated that most of the alleged abuse took place in parishes or in the headquarters of an ecclesial movement or association, with a few happening in seminaries or formation houses.
However, apart from these generic parameters, no other details were offered on the priests or individuals involved, and no information was provided whether civil or canonical proceedings had been initiated, or what the outcome of these proceedings were, if they had begun.
For months, a network of survivor advocacy groups united under the social media hashtag #ItalyChurchToo have been pushing the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) to do a more in-depth analysis, as other countries throughout Europe and the west have done.
Countries such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, and France, and now Spain and Portugal have contracted independent third parties to make a national inquiry into abuse going back decades, publishing reports that often contain damning numbers of both abusers and victims, yet Italy has yet to make such an inquiry.
While dioceses in many other countries have also begun publishing the names priests credibly accused of abuse in their ecclesiastical jurisdiction, no Italian diocese has yet taken this step.
In a statement following the publication of Thursday’s report, Francesco Zanardi, who established and runs Italy’s primary victims association, Rete L’Abuso (Abuse Network), called the two-year timeframe of the report “a joke.”
“Sixty-eight abusers in just two years indicates that there is a problem, but the timeframe of the report is a joke and excludes a bunch of figures – there is no data from magistrates or Rete L’Abuso,” which has been tracking abuse cases for years.
“They only referred to the ‘listening centers,’” Zanardi said, calling the report “shamefully inadequate.”
Only 166 of Italy’s 226 dioceses and archdioceses participated in the inquiry, and of those 166, only 158 provided answers to questionnaires submitted for the report. The lack of involvement from so many was pinned on the fact that many smaller dioceses don’t have the personnel to handle such an inquiry.
Speaking to journalists at a Nov. 17 press conference on the report, Archbishop Giuseppe Baturi, secretary general of CEI, said the Vatican in the archives of the Dicastery from the Doctrine of the Faith also holds 613 files from Italian dioceses containing abuse complaints dating back to 2000.
These files, Baturi said, in a special agreement with the Vatican will be made available to research institutes in order to assist future safeguarding efforts, however, no details were provided on these files, and there are currently no plans to make them public.
In his statement, Zanardi said it was “disappointing that the report discarded allegations made before the year 2000,” and that the real number of victims over the past 22 years could be closer to 2,000.
Asked whether they were considering a more in-depth inquiry conducted by an independent third party, Baturi said this report is “a first step” and “does not exclude” other options in the future.
Similarly, Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia, who serves as president for CEI’s office for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, said the report was “just a start,” and said that awareness of the severity of the sexual abuse crisis has grown.
“It is time that the dirty laundry is no longer washed in the family. We must do it as a church, but this awareness must grow in all areas of civil society,” he said, and underlined the importance of putting oneself “in the shoes of the victims.”
Both Baturi and Ghizzoni insisted the listening centers were not a replacement for civil justice, with Ghizzoni stressing the “moral obligation” of reporting allegations of abuse, though he did not specify which authority these reports tough to be made to.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen